Merida Yucatan Mexico Information-Travel Guide

Uxmal - Mayan ruins/ archaeological site in Yucatan, Mexico




Not too long ago we visited the Mayan Ruins of Uxmal, located south of Merida in the state of Yucatan, Mexico. To us, Uxmal had a magic and spirit greater than Chichen Itza,  however Uxmal does not get nearly the volume of tourists that Chichen Itza recieves. The terrain there is hilly and more interesting, where the terrain at Chichen Itza is flat. We stayed at Hacienda Uxmal, which is quite nice with a good restaurant and an excellent location very close to the ruins. Uxmal, like Chichen, has a light and sound show nightly. The show was interesting but we found just being at the ruins at night to be the bigger thrill.





The name Uxmal means 'thrice-built' in Mayan, referring to the construction of its highest structure, the Pyramid of the Magician. The Maya would often build a new temple over an existing one, and in this case five stages of construction have actually been found. Uxmal was one of the largest cities of the Yucatán peninsula, and at its height was home to about 25,000 Maya. Like the other Puuc sites, it flourished in the Late Classic period (around 600-900 AD). Indications are that its rulers also presided over the nearby settlements in Kabah, Labná and Sayil, and there are several sacbe's (white roads of the Maya) connecting the sites. The area is known as the Ruta Puuc, or Puuc route, from the nearby hills. With a population of about 25,000 Uxmal was one of the largest cities in the Yucatán.





Puuc architecture has several predominant features, most notably constructions with a plain lower section and a richly decorated upper section. Carvings most commonly found include serpents, lattice work and masks of the god Chac. Chac was the god of rain, greatly revered by the Maya at Uxmal because of the lack of natural water supplies in the city. Although the Yucatán has few surface rivers, most Maya cities, including Chichén Itzá, used cenotes to access underground water, however there were no cenotes at Uxmal. Instead, it was necessary to collect water in chultunes or cisterns, built in the ground.



Stevens and Catherwood

In Incidents of Travel in the Yucatan John Stevens recounts stories of the human sacrifices performed at the highest temple of the House of the Magician. With the victim still alive, the priest would rip out the heart with a flint knife and throw the body (allegedly still moving) down the steep steps.



Pyramid of the Magician

The Pyramid of the Magician legend held that when a certain gong was sounded, the town of Uxmal would fall to a boy "not born of woman". One day, a dwarf boy, who had been raised from an egg by a witch, sounded the gong which struck fear into the ruler, who responded by ordering the boy to be executed. The ruler promised that the boy's life would be saved if he could perform three impossible tasks, one of which was to build a giant pyramid in a single night. The boy achieved all the tasks and became the new ruler.




Stairways and Chambers

The Pyramid of the Magician stands 117 feet (38 m) high. Unusually built on an elliptical base, this pyramid is the result of five superimposed temples. Parts of the first temple can be seen when ascending the western staircase; the second and third are accessed by the eastern staircase, in an inner chamber at the second level. The fourth temple is clearly visible from the west side, a giant Chac mask marks the entrance and Chac's mouth is the door! Climb to the top of the east stairs to reach the fifth temple and view the whole site. Legend has it that this is the pyramid the dwarf boy raised in one night.



The Nunnery Quadrangle is a collection of four buildings around a quadrangle. It was named Casa de las Monjas (The Nunnery) by the Spanish because the 74 small rooms around the courtyard reminded them of nuns' quarters in a Spanish convent. Each of the four buildings has a unique ornate facade and each is built on a different level. The northern building is the oldest and the grandest. Here can be seen many typical Puuc embellishments, including Chac masks arranged one over another vertically, serpents and lattice work. The building to the east, and closest to the House of the Magician, is the best preserved, with a stack of Chac masks over the central doorway, and serpents above the doorways to the left and right.

The Palace of the Governor is regarded by many experts as the best example of Puuc architecture in existence. The Palace of the Governor stands on an artificial raised platform and is thought to be one of the last constructed building on the site (around 987 AD). The structure has a typical plain lower section and a richly carved upper. Amongst the depictions are serpents, lattices and masks and also a central seated god-like figure with a long plumed head-dress.





House of the Turtles is next to the Palace of the Governor and on the same raised platform. The House of the Turtles is named for the frieze of turtles carved around its cornice. It was believed that turtles suffered with man at times of drought and would also pray to Chac for rain. The Great Pyramid was originally nine levels high and has only been partially restored. It seems that another temple was to be superimposed on the existing structure and some demolition had taken place before the plans were halted, leaving the pyramid in bad condition. You can still see Puuc-style stonework on its fascade.

Getting there

You can visit Uxmal in the state of Yucatan during your vacation. On Sundays there is no admission charge at any of the ruin sites in the Yucatan Peninsula. From Merida it is a short 2 hour ride to these awesome ruins. Plan an overnight stay so to experience the light and sound show at night.

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